Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis

Born March 5, 1938 (1938-03-05) (age 73)
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
Nationality American
Fields Biology
Known for Endosymbiotic theory
Notable awards William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement

Lynn Margulis (born March 5, 1938) is an American biologist and University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.[1] She is best known for her theory on the origin of eukaryotic organelles, and her contributions to the endosymbiotic theory, which is now generally accepted for how certain organelles were formed. She is also associated with the Gaia hypothesis, based on an idea developed by the English environmental scientist James Lovelock.



Endosymbiotic theory

Lynn Margulis attended the University of Chicago, earned a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1960, and received her Ph.D. in 1963 from UC Berkeley. In 1966, as a young faculty member at Boston University, she wrote a theoretical paper entitled The Origin of Mitosing Eukaryotic Cells.[2] The paper however was "rejected by about fifteen scientific journals," Margulis recalled.[3] It was finally accepted by The Journal of Theoretical Biology and is considered today a landmark in modern endosymbiotic theory. Although it draws heavily on symbiosis ideas first put forward by mid-19th century scientists and by Merezhkovsky (1905) and Ivan Wallin (1920) in the early-20th century, Margulis's endosymbiotic theory formulation is the first to rely on direct microbiological observations (as opposed to paleontological or zoological observations which were previously the norm for new works in evolutionary biology). Weathering constant criticism of her ideas for decades, Margulis is famous for her tenacity in pushing her theory forward, despite the opposition she faced at the time.

The underlying theme of endosymbiotic theory, as formulated in 1966, was interdependence and cooperative existence of multiple prokaryotic organisms; one organism engulfed another, yet both survived and eventually evolved over millions of years into eukaryotic cells. Her 1970 book, Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, discusses her early work pertaining to this organelle genesis theory in detail. Currently, her endosymbiotic theory is recognized as the key method by which some organelles have arisen (see endosymbiotic theory for a discussion) and is widely accepted by mainstream scientists. The endosymbiotic theory of organogenesis gained strong support in the 1980s, when the genetic material of mitochondria and chloroplasts was found to be different from that of the symbiont's nuclear DNA.[4]

In 1995, prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins had this to say about Lynn Margulis and her work:

I greatly admire Lynn Margulis's sheer courage and stamina in sticking by the endosymbiosis theory, and carrying it through from being an unorthodoxy to an orthodoxy. I'm referring to the theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology, and I greatly admire her for it.[5]

Theory of symbiotic relationships driving evolution

She later formulated a theory to explain how symbiotic relationships between organisms of often different phyla or kingdoms are the driving force of evolution. Genetic variation is proposed to occur mainly as a result of transfer of nuclear information between bacterial cells or viruses and eukaryotic cells. While her organelle genesis ideas are widely accepted, symbiotic relationships as a current method of introducing genetic variation is something of a fringe idea.

She does, however, hold a negative view of certain interpretations of Neo-Darwinism, excessively focused on inter-organismic competition, as she believes that history will ultimately judge them as comprising "a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology."[6] She also believes that proponents of the standard theory "wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin - having mistaken him... Neo-Darwinism, which insists on [the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection], is in a complete funk."[6]

She opposes such competition-oriented views of evolution, stressing the importance of symbiotic or cooperative relationships between species.


In 2009 Margulis co-authored with seven others a published paper stating "Detailed research that correlates life histories of symbiotic spirochetes to changes in the immune system of associated vertebrates is sorely needed" and urging the "reinvestigation of the natural history of mammalian, tick-borne, and venereal transmission of spirochetes in relation to impairment of the human immune system." [7]

In 2009, via a then-standard publication-process known as "communicated submission", she was instrumental in getting the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) to publish a paper by Donald I. Williamson rejecting "the Darwinian assumption that larvae and their adults evolved from a single common ancestor." [8][9] Williamson's paper provoked immediate response from the scientific community, including a countering paper in PNAS.[10] Conrad Labandeira of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said, "If I was reviewing [Williamson's paper] I would probably opt to reject it," he says, "but I'm not saying it's a bad thing that this is published. What it may do is broaden the discussion on how metamorphosis works and…[on]…the origin of these very radical life cycles." But Duke University insect developmental biologist Fred Nijhout said that the paper was better suited for the "National Enquirer than the National Academy." [11] In September it was announced that PNAS will eliminate communicated submissions in July 2010 but PNAS stated that the decision had nothing to do with the Williamson controversy.[9]

Margulis has argued that "there's no evidence that HIV is an infectious virus" and that AIDS symptoms "overlap...completely" with those of syphilis.[12]

Professional recognition

Personal Background

She attended the University of Chicago at age 14 having entered "because she wanted to go and they let me in".[18]

At 19, she married astronomer Carl Sagan. Her children are popular science writer and co-author Dorion Sagan; software developer and founder of Sagan Technology Jeremy Sagan; New York City criminal defense lawyer Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma; and teacher and author Jennifer Margulis.[citation needed]

One of her sisters married Nobel Laureate Sheldon Lee Glashow; the other married mathematician Daniel Kleitman.

Select publications and bibliography

  • Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan, 2007, Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature, Sciencewriters Books, ISBN 978-1-933392-31-8
  • Margulis, Lynn and Eduardo Punset, eds., 2007 Mind, Life and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time, Sciencewriters Books, ISBN 978-1-933392-61-5
  • Margulis, Lynn, 2007, Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love, Sciencewriters Books, ISBN 978-1-933392-33-2
  • Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan, 2002, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species, Perseus Books Group, ISBN 0-465-04391-7
  • Margulis, Lynn, et al., 2002, The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change, University of New Hampshire, ISBN 1-58465-062-1
  • Margulis, Lynn, 1998, Symbiotic Planet : A New Look at Evolution, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-07271-2
  • Margulis, Lynn and Karlene V. Schwartz, 1997, Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, W.H. Freeman & Company, ISBN 0-613-92338-3
  • Margulis, Lynn and Dorian Sagan, 1997, What Is Sex?, Simon and Shuster, ISBN 0-684-82691-7
  • Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan, 1997, Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis, and Evolution, Copernicus Books, ISBN 0-387-94927-5
  • Sagan, Dorion and Lynn Margulis, 1993, The Garden of Microbial Delights: A Practical Guide to the Subvisible World, Kendall/Hunt, ISBN 0840385293
  • Margulis, Lynn, 1992, Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons, W.H. Freeman, ISBN 0-7167-7028-8
  • Margulis, Lynn, ed, 1991, Symbiosis as a Source of Evolutionary Innovation: Speciation and Morphogenesis, The MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-13269-9
  • Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan, 1991, Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality, Summit Books, ISBN 0-671-63341-4
  • Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan, 1987, Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-04-570015-X
  • Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan, 1986, Origins of Sex : Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-03340-0
  • Margulis, Lynn, 1982, Early Life, Science Books International, ISBN 0-86720-005-7
  • Margulis, Lynn, 1970, Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-01353-1


  1. ^ Lynn Margulis biography at U. Mass. (Accessed July 15, 2006)
  2. ^ Lynn Sagan (1967). "On the origin of mitosing cells". J Theor Bio. 14 (3): 255–274. doi:10.1016/0022-5193(67)90079-3. PMID 11541392. 
  3. ^ John Brockman, The Third Culture, New York: Touchstone, 1995, 135.
  4. ^ Acceptance Doesn't Come Easy (Accessed July 15, 2006)
  5. ^ John Brockman, The Third Culture, New York: Touchstone, 1995, 144.
  6. ^ a b Mann, C. (1991) "Lynn Margulis: Science's Unruly Earth Mother," Science, 252, 378-381
  7. ^ Syphilis, Lyme disease & AIDS: Resurgence of “the great imitator”?, SYMBIOSIS Vol. 47, No. 1 (2009), pp. 51-58
  8. ^ [1] Caterpillars evolved from onychophorans by hybridogenesis, PNAS (2009)
  9. ^ a b [2] Controversial caterpillar-evolution study formally rebutted, Scientific American Online
  10. ^] Caterpillars did not evolve from onychophorans by hybridogenesis, PNAS (2009)
  11. ^
  12. ^ Teresi D (April 2011). "Lynn Margulis: Q & A"]. Discover Magazine: 66–70. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  13. ^ Guest Lecturers
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ (
  18. ^ BBC Radio 4 "A Life With...(Series 5) - A life with Microbes, Broadcast 16 July 2009"
  • Interview and portrait of Lynn Margulis by Ariane Laroux in Portraits Parlés, éditions l'Age d'Homme (2006)

External links

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  • Lynn Margulis — Lynn Margulis, 9. November 2005 in A Coruña Lynn Margulis (* 5. März 1938 in Chicago als Lynn Alexander) ist eine US amerikanische Biologin und Professorin an der University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ihre bekannteste wissenschaftliche Leistung… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lynn Margulis — (1938). Bióloga de origen estadounidense …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Lynn Margulis — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Margulis. Lynn Margulis le 9 novembre 2005 Lynn Margulis (née en 1938) est une microbiologiste …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Margulis — may refer to: Berl Broder (born Margulis), Broder singer Dan Margulis, author Grigory Margulis (born 1946), mathematician Margulis lemma Jura Margulis, pianist and pedagogue Lynn Margulis, biologist Margulis, a villain from the game series… …   Wikipedia

  • Margulis — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Grigori Alexandrowitsch Margulis (* 1946), russischer Mathematiker Jura Margulis (* 1968), russischer Pianist und Musikpädagoge Lynn Margulis (* 1938), US amerikanische Biologin Mike Margulis (* 1950), US… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lynn — may refer to:Places;United States * Lynn, Alabama * Lynn, Arkansas * Lynn, Indiana * Lynn, Massachusetts * Lynn, Pennsylvania * Lynn, Wisconsin;United Kingdom * Lynn, a familiar local name for King s Lynn, NorfolkPeoplePeople with the surname… …   Wikipedia

  • Margulis — puede referirse a: Grigori Margulis, matemático ruso. Lynn Margulis, bióloga estadounidense. Vitaly Margulis, pianista y pedagogo ucraniano. Esta página de desambiguación cataloga artículos relacionados con el mismo título. Si llegaste aq …   Wikipedia Español

  • Lynn — hace referencia a: Gina Lynn, actriz porno estadounidense; Loretta Lynn, cantante de música country; Lynn Anderson, cantante y música estadounidense; Lynn Redgrave, actriz estadounidense de origen británico; Lynn Margulis, biologa estadounidense …   Wikipedia Español

  • Margulis, Lynn — ▪ 2001       At a White House ceremony on March 14, 2000, Pres. Bill Clinton presented the U.S. National Medal of Science to eminent microbiologist Lynn Margulis, one of 12 distinguished recipients. She was cited “for her outstanding… …   Universalium

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